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Maybe because it was shot in England instead of the Philippines, Full Metal Jacket is clothed not in the lush tropical colors of other Viet Nam films but in the desaturated green-gray of a war zone as it would appear on the 6 o'clock news. Hue might be Pittsburgh. Here, only death looks luscious: gunfire makes a gutted warehouse flare into brilliant orange, and the blood of strafed civilians waters the countryside, turning it into poppy fields. The drama is desaturated too. The soldiers have no ideals to defend, just their asses; the accompanying music is not Samuel Barber but inane party rock of the '60s like Wooly Bully and Surfin' Bird. In this second section the movie becomes a notebook of anecdotes, always compelling, but rarely propelling the story toward its climax. Unlike Oliver Stone's Platoon, with which it will unfortunately be compared, Kubrick's film does not want to say every last word about Viet Nam. It wants to isolate a time, a place and a disease.
Act III: A sniper shoots one, then another, member of Cowboy's platoon. How many of the enemy are inside the building? How many live bodies should Cowboy offer up to fulfill the Marines' tradition of recovering their dead and wounded? How does any officer stanch his men's righteous bloodlust? And what does an honorable soldier do when confronted with a killer's face, as pretty as an M-14, that pleads for mercy killing?
As Kubrick returns to the movie mainstream, he also waters down his material with a Hollywood ending. So far, he has closely followed his source novel, Gustav Hasford's taut, scary The Short-Timers. Now -- we will say no more -- Kubrick pretties up the climax with a bogus moral dilemma and some attenuated anguish. A viewer is finally left to savor earlier delights: the dialogue's wild, desperate wit; the daring in choosing a desultory skirmish to make a point about war's pointlessness; the fine, large performances of almost every actor (Ermey and D'Onofrio seem sure shots for Oscar nominations); most important, the Olympian elegance and precision of Kubrick's filmmaking. Full Metal Jacket fails only by the standards the director demands be set for him. By normal movie standards, with whatever reservations one may entertain, the film is a technical knockout.